Preparing for post-secondary by Kassidy
Created by Kassidy, Catapult, 2012, Catapult Plus 2013 & 2014
PART I: BEFORE POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION WARNING: Before you begin reading, be warned that this blog post is super long and I tried to cover as many details as possible. If you’re not the patient reading type, refer to my condensed version of this post in the infographic provided. Thanks!
Something I’ve learned about graduating and moving out on my own — it’s not all what I expected it to be… The typical way people begin their post-secondary education and career isn’t so typical anymore. This is the 21st century, and we’ve got all types of options! Nowadays, I hear people of all ages taking gap years to work and save up financially, travelling abroad, going back to high school for more credits or better grades, taking their GED, or even skipping post-secondary education all together in favour of an alternate route. Some people don’t see the point in spending loads of money on tuition, textbooks, and rent when they aren’t even sure what they want to study — and I totally understand that. However, since I was eager to start learning more in my area of interest, I applied to universities early on in my graduating year of high school.
I know everyone is asked the same questions over and over again: “What are you doing after you graduate?” “Where do you want to go to college/university?” “What’s your dream job?” “What’s your plans now?” As if everyone has their whole life planned out already! This is the way I see it: life is a work in progress, and like anything in that state — who knows what’ll change? With that in mind, I try to go with my gut feeling when I answer “I’m interested in _______ right now.” or “I’m leaning towards ________, but I’m starting to like ________.” There’s no real right or wrong answers after all. Throughout high school, I was lucky enough to have opportunities, mentors, and peers that led me to figure out what I really loved and wanted to learn about. Luckily for us Catapulters, we’ve already been exposed to so many resources that can help us succeed in all areas of life, and this includes post-secondary education (info can even be found on this website at the click of a button). A lot of the things I experienced at camp were helpful to me, so don’t be afraid to draw upon those skills and lessons we learned for your own benefit. For me, I found the one thing that stuck out the most was April Howe’s career coaching advice. She suggested going into co-op programs in school (which I did) and finding other opportunities to test out different careers — such as internships, mentorships, or volunteering. Just that one facet of Catapult has guided me quite a bit already, so don’t be surprised when multiple resources will come in handy along the way. There was a kind of roundabout path I took when I decided which subject to study, because I felt like I could have gone into so many different fields.
First I payed attention to the classes that I enjoyed most: Phys. Ed., English, Art and Drama were some of my favourites in high school. I loved being on sports teams as well, but I felt it wasn’t something I wanted to focus on as a career or field of study yet. Art class was my top favourite, and I knew that’d be my first choice as a career path. Since I also enjoyed English, I decided my second choice would be applying to something that involved a lot of writing and reading. That’s what I started with, and went from there. For other people, it may be harder to figure out what to do, so take your time and always be on the look out for good opportunities to try new things out. You’ll never know where “open doors” will lead you.
The second step I took was deciding what location I would attend university. Personally, it needed to be far enough away from home to push me out of my comfort zone and help my personal growth. I didn’t want to go across the country or overseas though, because I wanted to be able to visit my family when I felt like it, without worrying about travelling far or taking a plane. What helped me at this stage were the career fairs at my school. I got a look at what each college or university offered, and where they were located. Some of my top choices were daVinci College (then named Centre for Arts and Technology), NSCAD University, Saint Mary’s University, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia Community College, and Cape Breton University. There were others that piqued my interest but I tried keeping my list short. After compiling this list, I did some quick research to narrow down my choices.
The third step I took was figuring out how to cover costs of going away for my education and living on my own. Many people may opt for student loans, applying for scholarships, and other government funded help — but find out what works best for you. Coming from a Mi’kmaq community, I was lucky enough to have a chance for my tuition to be covered if my application to receive it was accepted. There are a lot of rules as to what I’m able to do for post-secondary education in order to get this support, so I had to choose wisely according to those limits. A few programs I wanted to apply for were too short (less than two full years) for me to be eligible for funding, so this eliminated daVinci College from my list. At first I was considering going to their campus in Fredricton, New Brunswick, but since that didn’t work out I looked for the next university location on my list — which was Halifax, Nova Scotia. That’s when I really narrowed down my choices. Further research and personal preferences left me with two universities: NSCAD and SMU. I didn’t want to go overboard with applications, since each one requires an application fee (look into this process when you’re applying to different places). Both paths I wanted to get involved with were within my funding parameters, so I decided to apply for both!
When applying to post-secondary education institutions, you have to make sure you meet the requirements for their applications. This includes the application fee, and other specified documents. Some applications require certain GPAs, so be aware of this when still in high school. When you’re looking to score scholarships, high grades come into play as well. You’re almost always going to need to send the institution a transcript, which is just a term used for a sheet with all your current grades on it, sealed in an envelope. Your school’s guidance counsellor will be able to help you with this part. Introduction letters may also be requested, and possibly reference letters (these are often required for scholarships). In my case, I also had to create a portfolio that included artwork I’ve done, and have it saved digitally to my profile on NSCAD’s website. It took me a while to compile this, so remember that time is also a factor in the application process. Once I had met all requirements, my applications went into processing. This is when the waiting game comes into play. I suggest keeping yourself busy by applying to as many scholarships, bursaries, and awards as you can when you get to this stage — and continue to do so throughout your post-secondary career. Waiting for a letter of acceptance or rejection can be nerve-wracking for some, so make use of that pent-up energy and do something productive. There’s tons of award applications available online, and new ones are popping up all the time. You just have to go looking for them. Some sources I found very helpful were university-specific websites (both NSCAD and SMU had links on their home websites) as well as other student-based websites. A quick Google search can go a long way as well. My favourites are yconic.com, and scholarshipscanada.com. Don’t limit yourself to just a few though! Another good way to find current scholarships that are accepting applications is to search by time-specific key words. Try “February 2016 Scholarships” for example, to find out if there are any deadlines happening this month. There’s always going to be something that you are eligible for, as long as you’re looking. When you finally receive confirmation of whether you’ve been accepted or not, congratulations! You’ve come this far!
Even if you haven’t been accepted, it gives you something to work from. Don’t be overly upset over it, even if it feels like the end of the world to you, it really isn’t. The first thing you should do is contact the institution and inquire about why they didn’t accept you. It could be that you’re grades weren’t sufficient enough, there were already too many students in the class, the class was cancelled due to low applications, or any combination of that. I’ve known some people who have gone through this trouble that actually turned the decision around and were accepted after improving their grades, correcting their application, or having the institution rep explain what was wrong. If there’s no way around it, then this is when a Plan B helps. For me, I was lucky to have been accepted to both SMU (Plan B) and NSCAD (Plan A). SMU offered a scholarship of $8,000 if I were to keep my GPA high enough (this is why good grades are important, people!), but my true passion is art — so I went with NSCAD’s four year program to work toward my Bachelor of Design. If you were accepted like I was, then great! You’re one step closer to furthering your education and career choice. This is where it can either feel relieving, even more stressful, or a mixture of both — depending on what your take on it is. Whatever situation you’re in, you aren’t alone! At least now you can focus on moving ahead, and figuring out the rest of the details along the way.
After finding out that you’re accepted, remember that you still have to confirm your enrollment and register for classes. If you need help with the specifics, contact your institution’s admissions office and ask them any questions you have. Usually, the institution will require a confirmation of acceptance, and possibly a fee to hold your seats in some classes. I know, fees everywhere! Right? Don’t worry, it only gets better from there! Once you’re class schedule is finalized, you’ll probably be sent your class details and material requirements for each specific one. This is where even more money is going to be spent! In my experience, I had a class materials fee for each one I was going to attend, and this only covered some of what was actually required. Many classes suggest or require you to purchase textbooks and other resources for in-class and homework use. I was responsible for many different materials in my case, but I’ll get into that in my next post!
Right now, I’m halfway done my second term at NSCAD University and I gotta say — it’s flying by! I’ll be done my first year in early April, which sounds crazy to me. If anyone reading this wants to ask more questions, feel free to contact me. I’m always open to helping others when I’m able to, so I hope this post has answered some questions already. Thanks for reading so far, Part II will be coming soon.
~ Kassidy Bernard, Catapult 2012